Take a Number
The most salient fact she has so far about death is that it has at least as much bureaucracy as life. She’s still waiting for processing. She’s pretty sure it’s day three.
The plastic seats are chipped. They’re the same cheap mass-produced mid-century replicas you’d find in an outdated DMV. She strums a shard of semi-separated laminate, the vibration resonating dully around her, duplicating the thick repetitive feeling in the center of her brain.
She loops back to what she remembers since the after. It starts with the bus. She doesn’t recall its outside. There’s just the memory of being in what gave the appearance of a mostly empty airport shuttle. It must have taken her to this center but disembarking is yet another gap in events. There was a queue of sorts once she got here. And there’s been the waiting ever since. That’s all she has.
No one she’s come in contact with has given her any information unless it’s been related directly to the business at hand. It’s possible she hasn’t asked anyone. She has trouble interrogating even her own thoughts. Communication feels beyond the bounds of her abilities and desires, beyond necessity.
She knows that they are signing her up for all new cards and things with the ten-digit number she’s been assigned. It’s not the same as her social security one and she’s had persistent worry about keeping it straight. The concern enters her head from one side and leaves from the other, and when it returns, she has only the vaguest sense that it’s traveled that path in her brain before.
Her mother is talking to the clerk, giving them some of the information she herself was not able to convey. She’s spent nearly two years missing her mother but she doesn’t believe she’s told her that or even looked directly at her. She became aware of her presence after what was likely several minutes of her mother standing over her, the repeated request for her personal details finally becoming intelligible to her. She’d silently slipped out the same smooth black wallet she’d had for years and handed it over. She was mildly surprised that some of her belongings like her wallet and bag were with her and seemed necessary.
On the way here, she’d passed a salon. It jutted out as a little obsidian square at the end of the curving cul-de-sac of a town that resembled the place she’d lived until she was eight. The stores were set up a little differently, the way it is in dreams, and now as it seems in death. The windows seamlessly cut around the corner of the salon and inside was the warmth of people with activity and purpose. The lights inside were peacefully reassuring against the darkening evening sky outside and she felt like she could remain there forever.
Maybe it was something she’d constructed in her mind or maybe it had been made up for her to feel more comfortable with this new situation. It was the sort of scene that before would have made her ache for a normal day out with her mother and she drifted calmly on the feeling that maybe they could have that here.
Since her mother died, she’d dreamt nightly of her. Pretty much the same thing, with variations. You’re going to die, she’d tell her. Did you know? In a month. Three months. A year. You already died. Why are you walking around? How do you feel? Her mother’s eyes never fully registered what she was saying or that she was there. The last dream she’d had like that was still with her.
She had been sitting in the back of the Volvo station wagon, that was the last car her mother owned, but inside she sat in the seat she would have decades before that. Her mother was at the wheel and they were passing a ramshackle building. She remarked that it had once been a place where they would have lunch together. Her mother had no comment. She leaned forward over the armrest in the front row and repeated herself. No answer from her mother. She got louder still and her mother turned slowly, eyes unregistering, no words forthcoming. She asked her mother to please recall it, please tell her how she was going to go on without her.
Here her mother has the extreme competence she had in life, talking to the person behind the Lexan about her with authority. She sees her wallet in her hand and she has another thought from life, of approaching front desks and doctors and nurses and reciting numbers, her mother’s birth date, her social security number, the dates of her diagnosis and admissions, her average oxygen saturation levels. Each time she did it she felt increasingly feverish, the paperwork she had to fill out blurred a little more, until she couldn’t even make out the foot-tall indications of what floor she was on in the hospital.
It’s one of the clearest thoughts she’s had here but she pushes it out of her mind and feels the daze settle back. She stares at the new card in her hand, repeats the numbers over and over and wonders what will be attached to this new numerical identity.